Three years ago, seeing the ultrasound that clearly indicated my future baby was a boy, I looked at my 9-year-old daughter and thought, ‘Thank God, no more Disney princesses!’
My next thought was, of course, “I mean, it’s OK if he likes princesses! I’m an enlightened mom and, well, he might even want to BE a princess one day and it won’t affect how much I love him!” Whew. Modern parenting.
But “modern” princesses market crappy Halloween costumes and simpering videos. There was a time when princess stories taught morals and ethics. With a misogynistic tinge, granted, but mostly decent lessons: don’t trust strange men (especially ones that flatter), don’t promise your first born to anyone for any reason, and your true love will eventually show up. Though, and here was my favorite lesson, it’s good to recognize that salt is probably more reliable than love.
I learned that last one from my favorite princess. She was brave and down-to-earth. I had no idea of her height, bust/waist/hip ratio, or hair color. So, of course, she looked just like me when she declared to her narcissistic King father, “I love you like salt.”
Her sisters declared their love to be like the sun, made of gold, or “best in the world,” but my princess didn’t cop out. I bet she had tasted salt straight from the shaker (to [filtered word] off her evil step-mother), filled a napkin with salt at the movies (the popcorn would need more after the top inch was eaten), and trained her true love not to marinate steak, or even glance at pepper, because salt is the only clothing a real steak needs.
But comparing a king to salt didn’t go over well. My princess was banished from the castle for such talk. A mundane, common thing is salt. It’s on every table, in every cupboard. Here in Juneau it’s so common we chuck it on the sidewalk. But as that princess and I know, salt is anything but ordinary.
To start, salt is necessary for human life.
We need sodium chloride to regulate the balance of water in our bodies. We need sodium ions for our nervous systems. Because everyone, universally, adds salt to their food, it is used as a vehicle for other nutrients we need, but often can’t get. In the U.S. it’s iodine, preventing hypothyroidism and the resulting mental retardation and other serious symptoms. In other countries it’s folic acid to reduce birth defects. Move over spoon full of sugar.
Because too much is unhealthy, though, salt offers a good lesson in moderation.
The right amount of salt will, paradoxically, make bitter foods taste sweet, and enhance all variety of flavors.
Too much salt and we want to spit it out. An evolutionary sign we should pay attention to.
The flavor enhancement magic I figured out at age one. Until the last few years, though, I was woefully ignorant of any other salt than Morton’s iodized table variety. Sure, I’d had generic sea salt in the pantry for years, but figured that was for some special, fancy cooking, and it sat there.
So, Salt 101: There are sea salts, obtained through evaporation, and rock salts, from rock deposits (think “salt mines”). Either type can be unrefined or refined.
Unrefined salts are used in cosmetic products and industry. A few sea salts are used in their unrefined state, such as French fleur de sel, but you won’t get tasty results from random ocean water evaporated on your stove.
Refined salts have most of their impurities removed (there’s a lot of life and natural chemistry in a cup of the Inside Passage), and are recrystallized to suit their planned use — small crystals for table salt, for example, and large for road salt.
Many specialty salts retain key “impurities” for color or taste, or create different crystal sizes and shapes for texture and speed of dissolving.
Finally, substances will be added to the salt if it’s destined to be “table salt” or to be used for specific industrial and chemical processes. For table salt, anticaking agents and desiccants are added so the salt will flow freely from a shaker.
I have several salts in the house, now, though I am certainly no gourmet. There is iodized table salt for the shaker, pickling salt (no iodine or anticaking agents that will turn pickles brown), a huge bag of salt from Costco (usually table salt, in case we need to preserve the meat in our freezer during a long-term power emergency), rock salt for making ice cream, Kosher salt for cooking (no additives and it dissolves and disperses better), and red Hawaiian sea salt from Moloka’i for finishing (because it’s pretty and reminds me of a fabulous family vacation).
And I was thrilled last month, at the holiday market, to add several more salts to the pantry, from right here in Southeast Alaska.
Formerly only available to chefs, and apparently much loved by many, Sitka’s Alaska Pure Sea Salt Company has started to sell their flaked sea salt to the general public. I added three finishing salts: white, wild blueberry and alder smoked.
The white I use to finish venison, beef, and salmon. The blueberry I put on salads and chocolate bars. You must try it. Wow.
But I hadn’t sorted out how to use the alder smoked until my wonderful neighbors created the Juneau Bloody Mary (see their recipe at the end of this article). I’m pretty happy my salty story has ended with both a Bloody Mary and a local source of this essential mineral.
Of course, my princess finished her story by becoming a renowned chef (princesses also taught overachievement; I ignored that lesson) and, when invited to cook for the clueless king, used no salt.
Boring, bland dishes, bereft of life, vacant of taste! Oh, how the king lamented that he hadn’t understood the depth of his banished daughter’s love!
With a wink, she hands him the saltshaker and lives happily ever after.
Dave and Angela Noon’s Juneau New Year Bloody Mary
Mix three parts Clamato juice to one part Smoked Salmon Vodka (from the Alaska Distillery). Add lemon juice, cream horseradish, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce to personal taste. Rim the glasses with Alaska Pure Alder Smoked Sea Salt. Drink to a wonderful New Year in beautiful Southeast Alaska.
For More Information and Reading:
Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky
Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, Mark Bitterman
Alaska Pure Sea Salt Company, Sitka. www.AlaskaPureSeaSalt.com.
• Sarah Lewis is a local architect and Slow Food Southeast board member. She hopes her husband finally realizes she’s serious when she says she’d prefer a jar of Hawaiian salt crystals to a diamond, any day. Diamonds don’t go nearly as well with chocolate.